Documentary Review: Hillsborough (2014)

Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Directed by: Daniel Gordon
Music by: Tim Atack, Joel Beckerman
Narrated by: Ryan Van Ness III

ESPN Films, BBC, 121 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hillsborough is a film that kicked off a new series of 30 For 30 on ESPN. It is the first part in the Soccer Stories run, which were released over the last few months in order to build for the World Cup, which itself just started a few hours ago. I plan on reviewing the whole series in its complete form but since this part stands out as a film, where the other parts are half hour episodes, I felt it deserving of its own review.

This film told the story of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on April 15th, 1989 in Sheffield, England. For those who don’t know, this tragedy happened during a game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and saw the death of 96 people who were crushed to death in the standing room only pens of the stadium. Following the tragedy, families of the victims have been seeking justice for decades but been denied it.

Hillsborough gives a pretty solid rundown of everything that happened leading up to the tragedy and everything that happened during and after, painting a very clear picture of what actually went down years after media spin and corruption tried to weave a different story.

The film was beautifully edited and presented, the interviews were conducted very well and I felt like the people involved, who had been victimized by this disaster were able to get some form of closure and peace by being able to be involved in this project while getting out their individual stories.

As a film, it was one of the best 30 For 30 chapters ever produced. It’s a definite must see for fans of the ongoing ESPN series or fans of real football (or soccer as we Americans call it).

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Film Review: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Also known as: The Zombies
Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Peter Bryan
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts Productions, Warner-Pathé, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I, I find all kinds of witchcraft slightly nauseating and this I find absolutely disgusting.” – Sir James Forbes

The Plague of the Zombies is truly the embodiment of a classic Hammer horror picture. Considering it is one that doesn’t star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee makes it even more impressive. Also, it wasn’t even directed by Hammer’s top dog Terence Fisher. Yet, it somehow perfectly captures the quality, tone and vibe of a true Hammer classic.

Director John Gilling only did a handful of pictures for Hammer. Still, he really made something that embodied their style and feels like some of their earlier, better known work such as The Curse of FrankensteinHorror of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

When singling out famous monster types, this is Hammer’s quintessential zombie movie in the same way that The Curse of the Werewolf was their quintessential werewolf picture. Hammer had vampires covered with at least a dozen movies.

This is also a zombie movie of the really old school pre-George A. Romero era. It features zombies created through the use of voodoo, which has always been the coolest type of zombie, in my opinion.

One thing that really makes this picture great is the performance of André Morell. He was really Hammer’s third biggest male star and he easily fills the void of this picture not having Cushing or Lee in it. Morell is underappreciated as a classic horror icon and this is one of his best films and performances. I wish this picture was a bit better known by horror aficionados.

In addition to Morell, John Carson puts in one of the best villainous performances in Hammer history. His evil voodoo practicing Squire is intimidating, haunting and weirdly alluring at the same time. Plus, voodoo in horror has always been a thing I’ve loved and this guy fits the part as the rich aristocratic British gentleman with his Haitian servants and horde of undead henchmen.

The Plague of the Zombies is a pretty perfect Hammer movie. It fits in perfectly with the best films in their oeuvre. Plus, it has zombies, voodoo and is a whole lot of fun.

Film Review: The 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, Part I (2017)

Having participated in the 20th Annual Manhattan Short Film Festival, I wanted to shine a light on the ten finalists. I’ll break this review into two parts, covering the first block of films before the festival’s intermission and then the second block of films after the intermission.

What the film festival does, is it takes thousands of short films from all over the world, narrows it down to ten finalists and then lets the audience from all the participating venues vote on the winner for best film and best actor. Currently, there are more than 250 venues from six continents that participate.

Do No Harm – action, drama – New Zealand (2017):

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Roseanne Liang
Written by: Roseanne Liang
Cast: Shan-Mei Chan, Mana Hira Davis, Steven A. Davis

Bebe Films, 11 Minutes

Review:

Do No Harm had an interesting premise and ultimately, it is about what a woman is willing to do if her daughter’s life is in danger.

The premise sees a female surgeon in Hong Kong working on her patient when a group of thugs barge in with their sights on that very same patient. They take out the rest of the medical staff, leaving just the surgeon. She refuses to step aside because of her oath to her patient. Her oath and her morals are tested and all the while, she shows that she is pretty much a martial arts badass.

The film is very confined and takes place in one room, and then a hallway, at the very end. But the tight space adds a little something to the narrative.

This is a brutal and violent short film.

In the end, it is a bit one-dimensional but it peaked my interest for the 11 minutes it ran.

Behind – horror, fantasy, drama – Spain (2016):

Release Date: May 1st, 2016 (Spain)
Directed by: Angel Gómez Hernández
Written by: Angel Gómez Hernández
Music by: Óscar Araujo
Cast: Macarena Gómez, Javier Botet, Ruth Díaz, Lone Fleming

Producciones Diodati, 15 Minutes

Review:

Behind was my favorite film of the first block of shorts in this festival. I went into it blindly, as I did with all of these pictures.

This was the only horror film of the bunch and that was kind of exciting because I expected these films to mostly be short character studies.

Most modern horror is pretty crappy but there does seem to be a small resurgence in quality over the last few years. While I don’t think this could work, stretched out over a 90 minutes picture, it really made the most of its 15 minutes.

The film builds suspense like nothing I’ve seen in a long while. And then the big horrific payoff is incredibly satisfying and I was legitimately frightened by it. It’s best not to know much more and to just experience it, as I did.

The main actress, Macarena Gómez, puts in a stellar performance.

Fickle Bickle – comedy – United States (2016):

Release Date: September 28th, 2017 (Manhattan Short)
Directed by: Stephen Ward
Written by: Stephen Ward
Cast: Kimberley Joseph, John Fulton, Randy Rackson

11 Minutes

Review:

This was the only US film out of the ten finalists, so I was hoping that it would be pretty good. It wasn’t.

It also wasn’t bad, it just didn’t do anything for me.

It’s a comedy and it focuses on a guy who tries to woo his high school crush, a girl that never gave him the time of day because she’s a gold digger. Being forgotten in a rich guy’s mansion, where he was fixing the plumbing, he calls the girl and invites her over.

It was lighthearted and a bit funny but there wasn’t much of anything that made it standout. Americans are obsessed with status and money, yada, yada, yada.

The actors were decent enough and the main guy was amusing but this film is pretty forgettable.

Hope Dies Last – biography, drama – United Kingdom (2017):

Release Date: August 10th, 2017 (Holly Short)
Directed by: Ben Price
Written by: Ben Price
Cast: Tarek Slater, Andrew Grose

Bolo Films, 8 Minutes

Review:

Hope Dies Last was the shortest picture of the first block of films. It also just falls short of Behind, as my favorite of this bunch. It makes the best use of its time, at just 8 minutes.

Emotionally, this film has the most impact. It is also based on a real person.

The picture showcases a haircut. But as the film rolls on, you realize that something is wrong and that for some reason the barber is terrified of his client. It is revealed that he is a Polish prisoner at Auschwitz and that the man getting his haircut is a Nazi officer. The barber was forced to cut the hair of this man, weekly. With each cut, he was terrified that it would be his last.

There is no dialogue but the attention to detail and the cinematography really work in providing the context for the narrative. Everything is revealed at the end but the suspense is built up well and you want to understand what is happening.

Tarek Slater was impressive as the barber and with the emotions he was able to convey without dialogue.

The Perfect Day – comedy – Spain (2016):

Release Date: July 15th, 2016 (Spain)
Directed by: Ignacio Redondo Gutiérrez
Written by: Ignacio Redondo Gutiérrez
Music by: Sergio Fernández-Sastrón
Cast: Pedro Freijeiro, Paula Sancho, Pep McCoy

12 Minutes

Review:

Somehow this has won over 30 awards, or so the poster and the website for this short film claim. Truthfully, it was my least favorite film of the entire festival. In fact, I had a hard time believing that this could even be a finalist.

It is a comedy story but it is derivative, in the worst way and something I’ve seen countless times as dream sequences is just about every sitcom that has run a long time and ran out of fresh ideas.

The story follows a guy who has a “perfect day” only for it to be a dream and then to relive the same day and have everything go wrong. Truthfully, so many other people have made this story and done a much better job with it.

There wasn’t really anything to learn here, the egotistical director puts himself in the film, as himself, and none of it works.

At least it is a Spanish film with a lot of Spanish hotties in it, though. That’s about all I can really get behind.

Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Release Date: September 18th, 2017 (London premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Based on: The Secret Service by Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons
Music by: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Sophie Cookson, Michael Gambon, Poppy Delevingne

Marv Films, Cloudy Productions, Shangri-La Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 141 Minutes

Review:

“Kingsman is crumpets!” – Poppy

I didn’t see the first Kingsman film until a few months ago. In fact, it was the trailer for this film that made me watch the original, which I had heard good things about but never got around to seeing. I wanted to see this one in the theater, so I made it a point to see the first. I loved the first.

This chapter in the series, which I hope will continue and not just end at two like Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass films, was a great follow-up to the first. It takes the established mythos, builds off of it and gets a bit crazier.

The film starts with the destruction of the Kingsman organization. Everyone is killed except for Eggsy and Merlin. Harry is still alive, as well, but the heroes still think he is dead after the events of the first film. It was kind of shitty seeing Roxy getting killed off early in the film because I was hoping to see more of her after the first picture.

The story then brings the Kingsman to the United States, Kentucky to be exact. They soon meet their American counterpart, the Statesman. The two groups form an alliance and discover the sinister plot that has been set in motion by Poppy, a crazy drug dealer with a nostalgic affinity for the 1950s. Julianne Moore is pretty friggin’ amazing in this role and it may be my favorite thing she has ever done.

The Golden Circle also features Elton John in much more than just a cameo role. He is in the film quite a bit, kicks some ass and delivers some great comedic lines.

Also joining the cast are the head of the Statesman, the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges. We also get Channing Tatum as Tequila, a Statesman agent that doesn’t have enough screen time, and Halle Berry as the Statesman’s equivalent to Merlin. Pedro Pascal is the Statesman that really steals the show, however.

Overall, this film is pretty much equal to the original. They are good companion pieces to each other and there is a real consistency in the quality, style and fun.

I feel that this chapter was more insane, even though the first was pretty ridiculous in all the right ways. You have a scene where the evil Poppy has a new henchman stuff an old henchman into a meat grinder and then she serves him a burger made out of the meat. It’s a moment that made me think, “As cool as this movie is and as much as I think she’d enjoy it, I won’t be bringing my mum to this.”

Even though these films have large ensemble casts with really talented stars, it is Taron Egerton that is the true star and is the glue of these movies. He doesn’t get the props he deserves but I hope doors open up for this kid because he’s incredibly talented and can carry a motion picture, outshining many of the stars around him. He has a presence and you have to take him seriously.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a lot of fun. It is exactly what I hoped for in a Kingsman sequel and I hope it is a sign that the series will maintain its quality, assuming it continues on. I really hope it does.

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.

Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.